Peter J. Davies

Independent Expert

Professor of Plant Physiology and International Professor of Plant Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca New York, USA

Peter J. Davies holds a B.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Reading in England, and an M.S. from the University of California at Davis. His expertise is in the field of plant development, especially plant hormones and crop...

In Support of GMO Crops

By Peter J. Davies (Independent Expert) on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 00:03
Category: Impact on Environment, Safety, Health, and Nutrition, Science and GMO Basics

From Maui Weekly:

Opinions expressed by opponents to genetically-modified crops make several claims about these crops. All these claims are, regrettably, based on falsehoods promulgated by a small minority who unfortunately fail to understand the science and safety behind these crops.

What are they?

Virtually all our crops are genetically modified in that they have been selected and bred by people to be more productive and provide benefits unavailable in their wild ancestors.  Modern corn is not only highly productive, but is unknown in the wild, and differs so much from its wild ancestor that no-one would recognize the wild grass from which corn is derived.  The only difference between genetic engineering and traditional crop breeding is that desirable traits can be introduced into a crop plant far more precisely using genetic engineering techniques.  While hunger has increased in some parts of the world because of factors like drought, the modern bounty of American agriculture, where over 90% of corn and soybeans are the results of genetic engineering, feeds the world.  As regards farmers being duped into paying more, farmers have choices and don’t have to plant GM seeds.  However they know the advantages of these crops and are overwhelmingly in their favor, with adoption ever increasing worldwide.  Here in Hawaii the development of GMO disease-resistant papaya has saved the papaya industry from total annihilation.

Safety?

GMO crops have been more tested by government agencies than any other previous agricultural advance, and declared as safe as non-GMO crops for consumption, and for the environment, by every major scientific body worldwide, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Medical Association amongst many others (and far more safe than the insecticides and herbicides whose use is replaced).  Even in GMO-averse Europe, qualified committees, following extensive investigations, have declared GM crops to be without risk, and safe for human consumption.  Americans have been safely eating products made from GM crops for 15 years without any harmful effects.  There is not a single documented case anywhere in the world demonstrating any illness, allergy, or adverse effect due to the fact that any plant is genetically engineered.  Modifications such as drought resistance, disease resistance and improved nutrient content are now about to become available.  However the delay in the adoption of these advantageous characteristics is largely due to the time taken for approvals, which can be over ten years, and it has been estimated that it takes $150 million to bring a new genetically-engineered trait to market, largely because of the cost of testing.

Yields?

Yields have in fact increased, and pesticide use has declined with the use of GM crops.  Published data by professional economists have shown that yield has increased more that would have taken place without these biotech crops.  As a result of the increased productivity, American agriculture is the only American enterprise that consistently shows an international positive balance of payments from exports.  In addition the use of highly toxic insecticides has declined dramatically.  Herbicide use is maintained, but the herbicide is far more benign that the previously toxic herbicides that were replaced.  Genetically-engineered crops need less room to produce the same yield, so leaving more space for wildlife, and need less soil cultivation, so less soil erosion.

Superweeds and superbugs?

There are no such things as superweeds or superbugs.  Yes, resistance to the principal herbicide has arisen, but the weeds are not “super”, and some insects have become resistant to the natural insecticide in the insect-resistant crops.  The answers to this lie in good farming practices, namely crop rotations, changing the herbicide used, and incorporating a small percentage of non-GM seed in insect-resistant crops so that insects attack these plants rather than develop resistance.

The Effect on Farmers in Developing Countries?

You may have heard claims of events such as dead livestock or GMO-related farmer suicides promulgated in anti-GMO movies etc.  Let me assure you that these have been investigated by professional academics who went to the purported locations and found these to be totally made-up stories.  In India small farmers have enthusiastically adopted insect-resistant GMO cotton to the tune of over 90%.

Genetic engineering is wonderful boon to agriculture, gives us safer food with less pesticide residues, enhances agricultural sustainability, and enables the provision of food to an ever increasing world population.

By Peter J. Davies

International Professor of Plant Biology at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Professor Peter Davies has been a member of the faculty at Cornell University for 44 years, and prior to that at Yale University.  He holds degrees from the University of Reading in England, and the University of California at Davis.  He has published over 100 papers and several books.  At Cornell he teaches plant function and growth, the societal implications of advances in biology, and a course on GMO crops, their regulation and societal implications.  He also holds the position of a Jefferson Science Fellow at the United States Department of State serving as a science advisor in the area of agricultural biotechnology, and is involved in Cornell’s mission in international agriculture.  He has no association with any GMO companies.  He is resident in Hawaii for a few months in 2014.

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